Light and dark.  Matte and shiny.  White and wood.  Of all the major design elements, the one my eyes enjoy most is contrast.  Whether it’s texture, color, style or material, I love the drama that comes with matching two seemingly disparate elements in a pleasing way.  So, when it came to redesigning the kitchen in our new home, my vision was clear before we even signed the settlement papers. 

The kitchen was 12ft x 15ft with dark wood cabinets, an awkward bay window and a peninsula that cut off the room from the rest of the house. I visualized large, full-length glass patio doors to frame the view of our expansive wooded backyard, white lacquer cabinetry with upper cabinets for out-of-the-way storage, and an oversized island with a marble countertop and base in rich walnut planks to keep the kitchen open to the rest of the home.  I wanted to balance my desire for beautiful design with workhorse functionality while keeping the construction simple enough to allow me to make or install many of the items myself.

So, off I went.  First, the appliances. Refrigerators with cover panels were a must, since I felt that too much stainless steel in a confined space would feel overwhelming. I found two Liebherr floor sample models, never used and still under full warranty for an amazing price.  My neighborhood Best Buy had two Miele dishwashers on floor sample sale, so I purchased both for a song. Induction cooktop, check. Two separate ovens (I prefer these to a double oven model), check.   An open-box gourmet faucet from Amazon, check.  A deep stainless steel sink for the island from Overstock, check.  A seamless and stainless sink with surrounding steel countertop for every cooking, science and kid project imaginable, check.

Next, I chose IKEA for the cabinetry because the love I have for this crazy store will never die. I looked carefully at higher-end kitchen distributors, and while I can appreciate the idea of a fully custom kitchen, I am a DIYer at heart.  We DIY’ers will tell you– IKEA is just one huge sandbox to those who like power tools and weekend projects. IKEA’s high gloss white was very similar to the high-end dealers, so the choice for me was simple. I have zero regrets.

For the base of the island, I knew I wanted walnut, but had no idea where to start. A friend suggested Vienna Hardwoods, a local store that sold interesting woods.  One visit to the place and I was in love. The owner, John, introduced me to several gorgeous planks of walnut in various sizes, and patiently explained how I could finish them. Within a week, I was cutting, sanding and gluing my planks together. I finished them off with tung oil, which brought out the richness of the walnut better than polyurethane. Professional woodworkers might cringe at the imperfections of my homemade doors, but they have character and a unique style that is all mine.

In keeping with the design aesthetic of contrasting white and wood, marble was my one and only choice for the island countertop.  Many industry professionals would balk at my choice because of the porous and high maintenance nature of marble. Marble lovers will all tell you the same thing – when you want marble, only marble will do. With a house full of busy kids, I knew that my stone would not remain in pristine condition, but I wanted the materials in my kitchen to age gracefully over time and develop a little soul in the process. I used a technique called acid-etching, which is a surface treatment that helps limit discoloration of the marble from acidic foods such as lemons and tomatoes.  

Flexibility with your design and truly understanding your needs in a space can lend to some of the best decisions. I loved the idea of having a pantry, but disliked our current design. I considered installing pull-out cabinetry in place of the existing pantry closet, but the HVAC ducts were in the way and moving them was not an option. After considering a few possibilities, we decided this area would be perfect for my most coveted appliance, the Miele built-in coffee maker.

As luck would have it, I discovered that IKEA makes a microwave that looks strikingly similar to my beloved coffee maker, making the two appliances a seamless fit. Since we don’t use our microwave often and preferred not to spend a fortune on one, this was the ultimate high-low design win. Now we use this area every day as our coffee bar and the thick handmade walnut countertop handles our party punch and wine spills like a true champion.

We love our new kitchen– etches and all! The best part? My beloved coffee bar is always open!

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Sara Sealock

Sara Sealock is a Great Falls mom, wife, blogger, DIY’er and co-founder of Handmade Sanctuary. Get more great DIY tips by visiting or on instagram as handmadesanctuary
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